Maoist Violence in Lalgarh, West Bengal, Must be Condemned

The inevitable has happened. As soon as the election results came out and the wall of fear collapsed and mass anger against the ruling CPM became evident, the Maoists waiting in the wings have come out into the open. However, what is happening today in Lalgarh and other parts of West Bengal cannot be justified by pointing at the CPM’s totalitarian terror in the Bengal countryside.

According to reports, the violence, killings of CPM activists and members, especially in Lalgarh, has now acquired unprecedented proportions. CPM members are being driven out of their homes or killed. The offices of the party have been targeted on a large scale, not just in Lalgarh but elsewhere in West Bengal.

At Kafila, we had earlier, on 22 April, reported on what is going on in Lalgarh. That Maoists have been active in Lalgarh is well known. In this report filed after a visit to Lalgarh, Monobina Gupta had drawn attention towards the disjunction between the Maoist leadership’s designs and the local Maoist activists who were having to work along with the popular sentiment. Monobina’s report went further:

In fact, curiously enough, the situation on ground zero is not going exactly in accordance with the plans of Maoist central leaders who favour stepping up violence. Insiders talk about a growing discordance between the central leadership and the ‘Maoist villager’, active in the movement. With the agitation forging ahead, Maoist central leaders want to have a firmer grip; they want landmines, killings, terror, systematic targeting of informers. But the grassroots ‘Maoist’ worker is unwilling. “They realize any such violent action will lead to their isolation and the death of the movement. But Maoist central leaders believe they made the movement and should have the right to control it,” said an insider. “One of the reasons villagers are sympathetic to Maoists is because they know them intimately, not as some distant commander, but the youth next door, who works for and with the poor. But violence would find little endorsement,” he said.

Today, in the aftermath of the elections, the design of the Maoist central leadership seems to have won the day. Maoist cadre are out in the open. Activists associated with the movement and with the Lalgarh Sanhati Mancha, confess to a feeling of helplessness as the armed Maoist cadre threaten to take over and derail the movement that has so far afforded little space to its politics of violence.

In some of our earlier posts, we had condemned Maoist violence in Chattisgarh, especially its threats against the human shields programme of the Vanvasi Chetna Ashram and the wanton killings by them in Nayagarh in Orissa (22 February 2008). The latter was a statement issued by eleven intellectuals and activists who had also been raising their voice against the Nandigram violence. This statement expressed its “complete opposition to this cult of violence” and had warned that

The Maoist atrocity in Nayagarh is particularly unfortunate as it is detrimental to the various democratic mass movements all over Orissa that are resisting the policies of land grab and diversion of natural resources to global and domestic corporations. The Orissa government is bound to use this incident as yet another excuse to crack down on the militant but non-violent struggles of the people against unjust development policies in the state.

Today, once again, in West Bengal this is the threat that the democratic mass movement faces. Maoist violence is once again set to eliminate every intermediate space of democratic protest and struggle, leaving the villagers with only two options: either line up with the state or follow the Maoists. This is the picture everywhere, wherever the Maoists are in command, from Chattisgarh to parts of Andhra and Orissa. That is the challenge before democratic struggles and public opinion today.

16 thoughts on “Maoist Violence in Lalgarh, West Bengal, Must be Condemned”

  1. Mr. Nigam, while you do state the challenge, it is not clear what could be done. The other question is what is your opinion regarding the possibility of using government’s military action to counter the maoists.

  2. Aditya,

    It is easy to pose a non-violent position sitting in Delhi, as you have done, but it is a different story in WB. This is an inevitable bloodbath that the CPI(M) has ensured in the last 32 years. It is the only way to uproot CPI(M) from WB. At the same time we must condemn the so-called Maoists, not because they are being violent, but because they are simply playing in the hands of the CPI(M). CPI(M) will simply use the police to re-establish their hegemony – something which has been condemned in your website in no uncertain terms. At the same time, I must reiterate the point that non-violence does not serve anyone (except idiots like Gandhi). There is always a usefulness of violence as far as political movements are concerned.

    Best,
    Ullu

  3. Ullu, we may not be as much in disagreement as you seem to think (except perhaps in our assessment of Gandhi!). As a student of mass struggles, I do not valorize “non-violence” at all, as you will see in my previous post on this issue.
    If you’re interested, you could also take a look at something I wrote earlier “Reflections on revolutionary Violence”.
    I would not ever counter-pose “non-violence” as an alternative to violence.

  4. Aditya – I agree non-violence is not the point or possibility right now in WB. What needs to be done, and what the situation in WB compels us to do, is a reformulation of political violence away from the narrow and tired rhetoric of Maoism in WB (whatever that means). It is a violent party and a brutal government that rule the state now – violence indeed acquired newer nuances under the all-pervasive regimes of CPI(M) – and their degeneration would inevitably entail another violent phase. The challenge is twofold I think – on the one hand, CPI(M)’s excessive and overt reliance on violence to ensure their political hegemony (something they have perfected over the decades) that threatens to exhaust every political event and pre-empt every act of resistance; and the new and fragile political struggle that has to be violent in order to challenge the ruling party. Add to this the opposition’s sordid optimism that this new phase of state violence will ensure a Nandigram-type backlash. The task of a student of politics would be to reformulate a new paradigm for the germane and perforce violent political struggle in WB – is there a way to think of this new political violence without aligning it to either of the two dominant models propagated by the two left parties (I cannot but note the irony that both share the same acronym!)? Is there a space, however contingent, where this new mass struggle can define itself in its own terms?

    I am aware of your previous posts – and I quite enjoyed them.

    Dr Sengupta – I am not very sure about the proprietary logic you use. Do we need to be a shareholder in each and every issue we think and talk about? And it would also help to identify what you call “ground zero.” The situation in WB hardly allows one to be unaffected – the entire state is a ground zero I would think.

  5. I am thoroughly amused by the phrase “idiots like Gandhi”. This is an eternal problem with the Left ( both official, semi-official, unofficial & anti-official) in India. An “idiot like Gandhi” ruled Indian freedom struggle & earned support of majority of Indians through his political methods ( I am not debating whether he was right or wrong) while the intelligent & Know-all Left is yet to occupy the intellectual centre-stage of Indian politics (forget about popular support). Their ideas & theories are no longer discussed even in the universities known for their anti-establishment views.

  6. .. the idiotic gandhian ways hav benefited the fanatical Hindutva terror ideologues only, but sans the non-violent ideas he copy pasted from Buddhism (he remained the greatest exponent of hinduism !!) ….
    the prblm with maoist violence is that it eulogises “violence” and undermines the power of indian state, thereby misledng Dalit/Adivasi movement… we hav been witnss to such hijacking of grassroot level movememnts of the marginalised for long… what wil happen now? Indina state will not only suppress the movemnt, but also let the caste hindu feudal forces to rule the roost in th region, of course with the blessings of these fascist bhadralok marxists…
    yes there is anger against CPI m goons, not only in Lalgarh, but also in all places where CPI M have unleashed its terror, whther it be kerala, tripura or WB… any fascist outfit like CPI M wil be met with this fate…. people will handle them.. that wil be violent one !.. let us understand it..

  7. Report of Fact-finding Team from JNU on the Eve of Lalgarh Violence

    by A Fact-finding Team of Students from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi

    A fact-finding team of nine students from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) recently visited Lalgarh, to probe into the reality of the ongoing movement of the people in the area. Here we are enclosing the preliminary details of what we saw. We would like to appeal to your daily news channel to also highlight certain issues of the movement, which we feel are not coming to the forefront as much as it should have.

    We heard through various media and other sources that there had been massive state repression in Lalgrah and other adjacent areas in November 2008, after the attempted mine blast on the convoy of Buddhadeb Bhattacharya. We heard of incidents of rampant police atrocity especially on women and school children in Chhotopelia and Katapahari. We also heard that after that rampage the people there have formed the Pulishi Santrash Birodhi Janasadharoner Committee (PSBJC) and have blockaded Lalgarh and other areas out of police and other administration.

    With these preliminary facts we went inside Lalgarh. We stayed there from the 7th of June to the 10th of June, 2009. We visited the Chhotapelia, Katapahari, Bohardanga, Sijua, Dain Tikri, Sindurpur, Madhupur, Babui Basha, Shaluka, Moltola Kadoshol, Basban, Papuria, Komladanga, pukhria, Korengapara, gopalnagar, Khash jongol, Shaalboni, Shaal danga, Andharmari, Darigera, Bhuladanga, Chitaram Dahi, Teshabandh, Bhuladanga villages and talked extensively to people. We attended one big meeting in Lodhashuli called by the Committee and witnessed other small meetings which were held inside the villages. The current firing and frontal battle between the people and the state and CPI(Marxist) (henceforth CPM – ed.) in Dharampura and Madhupur/Shijua had started while we were there. So we believe we have observed many facets of this movement pretty closely.

    The visit to Lalgrah and talking closely to people broke many of the myths which we still held before going there. After listening to the chronological narrative of the history of police atrocities in the area, we realized that the November incident was not unique. It was just the continuation of extreme state terror and police atrocities that the people of the regions have tolerated since 2000.

    What is unique this time is the resistance.

    The people in all the villages virtually demonstrated how police had tortured them, entered houses at the wee hours of night to break everything and beat up people in the name of ‘raids’, how any movement of the people at night even to look for their cattle was banned, how almost in every family there is someone or the other who had been booked for being a ‘Maoist’, how 90 year old Maiku Murmu of Teshabandh was beaten to death by the police way back in 2006. Young school girls were regularly molested by the police in the pretext of ‘body check’, women were forced to show their genitals at night during ‘raids’ to confirm their gender. Before every election 30-40 people from every village were picked up as ‘Maoists’ in order to debilitate the opposition. The incident of Chhotopelia, where a number of women were ruthlessly beaten up and one of them Chhitamoni lost her eye, virtually broke the limit of patience of the people. They have now risen up against this long drawn police atrocity.

    Coupled with Police terror they talked of CPM terror too. CPM cadres and leaders have only acted as informers to police they said. Today when we saw the jubilation among people after demolishing Anuj Pandey’s house, we can understand the emotions of the people. Because what we saw among the people was utter hatred for CPM. They showed us around in Madhupur how the local panchayat office was turned into a camp of the harmad vahini. They told us how the ‘motor cycle army’ of the harmads zoomed around the villages, terrorizing people, breaking their houses brutally, firing in the air, and beating people up. We talked to one villager whose house was being demolished by the harmad, he helplessly kept calling the police in vein. It was only after an armed resistance was put up that the harmads were forced to retreat to Memul and further to Shijua.

    Similarly, they narrated the incident of Khash Jongol, where, because of the lack of armed preparedness from the Committee, the harmads abruptly entered with the help of the police and opened fire and killed three people, injuring three others, and fled.

    Police and CPM are not just in alliance, they are the same thing. They told us how the police stood as mute spectators whenever the harmads went on a rampage. The harmads have even used police jeeps to move around. The local CPM cadres provide information about the people within the villages to the police.

    From our team, therefore when we see the current violence, which many media houses are branding as ‘anarchy’, we have a different opinion. We have seen the genuine anger of the people, their tolerance, their suffering. And we have no hesitation at all in holding the police, administration and CPM responsible for the current precipitation of the situation.

    The Committee was formed against police atrocity. But what impressed us most was the alternative developmental work that the Committee and the people have been doing inside Lalgarh in the past seven months. These areas are marked by extreme poverty and backwardness. Rainfall is scanty and the people are dependent only on rainfall for agriculture. We saw the dysfunctional government canal, which is lying dry. They described the faulty nature of governmental dams which ultimately dry up the natural falls. The showed us the pathetic condition of roads which become completely inaccessible during the monsoons. The Committee on its own has made 20 km of roads with red stone chips (‘morrum’). The people have volunteered labour to make these roads. The total cost to make this 20 km of road, they showed, was Rs. 47,000, while the panchayat always shows at least Rs. 15,000 for 1 km of road. They have repaired quite a few tube wells and installed new ones at half the price of the panchayat. They have started to make a check dam in Bohardanga to fight the water crisis. The two best things that have been done by the Committee is to start land distribution and run a health center in Katapahari. The vested forest lands are supposed to be distributed to the landless tribals according to a bill passed by the West Bengal government. But it never happened. Now the Committee is taking initiative in Banshberi and other villages to distribute the vested empty lands adjacent to the forests to the people who have no land. We saw the distribution of the patta in one village. The condition of health facilities was also in a pathetic state in the villages, as there was not a single functional health center. The nearest ones are in Lalgarh and Ramgarh town. Patients often died on the way to the hospital, often there had been cases of snakebites of the people who were carrying the patients to the hospital in the monsoon. There was a dysfunctional building in Katapahari which was supposed to be a health center. The administration decided to turn it into a police camp. After police boycott, the Committee turned it into a health center. Doctors from Kolkata and other regions visit there thrice a week. It is flocked by more than 150 patients every day.

    We had also attended a huge meeting called by the Committee in Lodhashuli against a sponge iron factory located in the region. We visited the factory site and saw the adverse effect of pollution on the trees in region. The people informed that even the paddy grown in the region have turned black, so much so that even the panchayat has refused to accept the paddy. There are hospitals and schools in the vicinity of such a polluting factory. The meeting despite a bus strike called by CPM was attended by huge masses of people (around 12000), coming from different parts of the district. It was a vibrant meeting, where the Committee resolved among other things to boycott the factory and build a resistance to stop the factory for good.

    The presence of the Maoists within Lalgarh is one of the most contentious issues right now. We saw the open presence of Maoists and their mass acceptance. They paste posters and have also held meetings where about ten thousand people have participated. And unlike the popular myth that Maoists are outsiders from Jharkhand etc. we saw the Maoist brigade to be flocked by locals. The people are pretty clear about the need for an armed resistance in the face of the regular joint attacks by the CPM and the state. The restriction of carrying traditional arms by them is a clear signal by the state to debilitate this movement.

    By the time we left Lalgarh, the struggle had intensified. By now the people have been successful in making their immediate enemy CPM flee along with the police. The enthusiasm we saw in the people was exuberant. For the first time they are being part of not some vote minting political party but a committee which is their own organization. They are living a life free of state terror and building their own developmental projects. In different villages many residents held one opinion in common, ‘we have got independence for the first time’. Their fight is against age old exploitation, deprivation, torture and terror. In this way this is a historic fight. And we strongly feel that what is deemed ‘anarchy’ by many is real struggle for independence.

    We urge the media houses to revisit Lalgarh. The movement has its roots in the extreme impoverished socio economic conditions of the people because of the inaction of the state. The state is bound to strike back to this fight of the people. The CRPF will soon come back with the orders to open fire on the resilient masses. The state government is also shamelessly asking the notorious and infamous Greyhounds and Cobra to come and crush the people’s movement. And that will be the most unfortunate and condemnable thing. The anger of the masses against massive state terror, underdevelopment and corruption is valid. And so is the long awaited fight against it.

    We are going to publish a detailed report back in Delhi about this movement of the people. We remember that the media, especially the regional media in Bengal, had played a pretty progressive role during the Nandigram movement and would appeal to you to also stand by the people of Lalgrah and their genuine fight before the state carries out yet another genocide.

    Priya Ranjan, Banojyotsna, Anirban, Gogol, Kusum, Reyaz, Yadvinder, Veer Singh, Sumati.

    1. The report contains an error. the PCPA has nothing to do with the movement against the sponge iron factory in Lodhasuli. It is being organised by the Jharkhandi forces like Jharkhand Party (Aditya) and PCC, CPI(M-L), etc. Many of the CPM supporters have also joined this movement (of course the CPM party has been with the factory owners).

  8. i am curious about what is being discussed in “universities known for their anti-establishment views” .

  9. Since JNU has been mentioned, let us pick that example. The republic of JNU, once bastion of all sorts of anti-STATE ideas ( with no takers for the same in the rest of the country) has now slowly going towards the ABVP & YFE ( Youth for Equality) way. The same applies to all major universities in India. Students are more interested in cracking GRE/GMAT or CSE rather than in animated discussion around Marx & Mao.

    Where does Left ideology stand in the mindspace of today’s youth? A little introspection would have helped.

  10. ABVP/YFE mindset was always there within the leftist student organisations… the mandal period will testimony t… cracking GRE/GMAT is not a problm.. problm lies in the very “indian political mindset” which s based on the cultural caste capital acquired traditionally, carried forward to modern/secular spaces and so on… unless and until one self-critically think abt it, YFE kinda idiotic apolitical diseases wil eat the brain of youth… (YFE is like the ultra right wing politcal parties in Europe such as Freedom Party in Nethrlands.. such a shame to the concpt of freedom.. similarly, the concept of equality wil commit suicide seeing YFE kinda elitisms)

  11. which section of youths are we discussing – those who can pay for their GRE/GMAT/CSE or those who are staring at unemployment, underemployment ?

    1. @gopi mahato

      that is not an error. on 7th June, the day we arrived there in lodhashuli, a meeting had been called by the people’s committee, against the sponge iron factory. the meeting was attended by about 10-12000 people from the entire area. it was undoubtedly a meeting called by the Committee, in which it was resolved to boycott the factory. the jharkhand party or cpi (ml) had no presence in the entire region when we were there..not even in the form of public notices or posters. infact, most of villagers from the 25 villages we visited had nothing but criticism against the jharkhand party.
      Sumati
      (member of the student team from JNU)

  12. there report by th jNU students are quite impressive, i have read it elsewhere too..i think they contextualise and gives a coretc perspective to the thing. i sense a little emotional attachment with the movement though..they coulkd have been a little more neutral.

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